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I have loved and lost San Francisco multiple times during our tempestuous, decades-long relationship. I understand that it is through the sheer generosity (or benign negligence) of my landlord that I can afford to stay in the city and make my way as an artist, but one day soon a strong wind will blow my house down and I will have to move away. I can feel my grip on the city loosening and, as the discussion or the argument (or maybe it’s just a bitchfest) over the future of the city’s cultural life intensifies, I also feel myself unable to step up to my fickle lover’s defense.

I mangle this metaphor as I regurgitate it (shout out to recent posts by Michelle Tea and Stephanie Syjuco, in particular), but San Francisco really is like a boyfriend/girlfriend (possibly trans) who knows he/she is hotter than you and is constantly on the lookout for a more worthy mate. Maybe that mate is smarter or more beautiful. Or maybe just wealthier; I didn’t know the city was a gold digger, although with its roots in the Gold Rush I should have suspected. This is an important part of the city’s history that is often overlooked: the lure of the boom looms large.

San Francisco never ages, he/she is consistently seductive, a natural beauty and an enduring idea. But as we negotiate our breakup, I wonder if it’s possible to see my beloved more clearly. How much am I dazzled by my own projections and how much is really there? How much was always a myth?

Where the Outsiders Are In

The myth becomes true if enough people invest it with power. That was certainly the case for the Beats in the 1950s, and for the hippies during the Summer of Love. It was also undeniably true of the city as gay world capital, a ’70s haven on the cutting edge of queer rights and culture and then ’80s refuge for a community buffeted by the scourge of AIDS.

When I arrived, the gay party was already over. Bathhouses were embattled and being closed by the health department; young men hobbled down the streets, reduced to purple-spotted skin and bones. The queer community was tired, devastated by the amount of adult reality it had been forced to face and the hatred and bigotry that was being foisted upon it during its time of greatest need. There were no mentors. There was no one around to take a young, confused boy — drawn to the city with the promise of belonging — by the hand, welcome him into the fold and teach him how to be healthy, well-adjusted and gay. Perhaps that was the first time I saw through the myth to the reality and understood that it would be up to me to build my own community. I searched the streets for others like me.

I discovered them squirreled away within various warehouses in the Mission and South of Market Districts. Drawn by cheap rents, artists (at that time predominantly middle and working class, with a healthy mix of immigrants, runaways, hustlers and the occasional trust fund slummer) had begun invading these once largely Latino and light industrial neighborhoods, but not yet in numbers so great that a real displacement was being felt. However, aren’t we artists the first sign of a coming neighborhood apocalypse? Didn’t we make the space safe for the kind of capitalism that is now pushing us out?

cliff hengst
Cliff Hengst, from Gotta get a message to you, 2014; courtesy of the artist and Right Window

I often wonder at the loud protestations of today’s artists when they, too, are being displaced. Weren’t the same things said when we first arrived to take advantage of cheap rents? Then our friends came to visit and realized the neighborhood wasn’t as bad as it had been portrayed. And then slowly things began to change. The local diner became a coffee shop serving better coffee at a higher price. The local junk shop turned “vintage,” marketing the same stuff only perceived and valued in a different way. Cheap ethnic eatery gets taken over by an eager chef wanting to strike out on her own and make good food using local ingredients. Prices rise; the economic engine gets going, speeds up and there’s no telling when or where it will come to a stop.

And what cycle, I wonder, will overtake the techies who are even now changing the neighborhoods that attract them? What will replace the creative industry of the artists who are being forced to flee? This new group is being drawn to the city by the same things that drew previous populations: a thriving culture and the presence of like-minded individuals. In the San Francisco of today, techies can find others who speak their language and share their visions of a digital utopia, whatever shapes that may take. They have created a culture of start-up entrepreneurialism that has altered the atmosphere and with it comes a whole new set of values and priorities both public and private.

San Francisco: The Suburb

The process of continuous change and re-invention is an important element to keeping a city alive. However, there is something puzzling and counter-intuitive about this or any city becoming a bedroom community to an industry located elsewhere — especially one premised on replacing occupations with apps and moving whole industries into “the cloud.” It is easy to view this activity as a drain. Disruptive tech lives up to its name while the rate of change becomes dizzying. (See David Talbot’s San Francisco or bust at 48hillsonline.org for more on this subject.)

Living with this kind of uncertainty inevitably causes conflict. Yes, more tech money has arrived in the city, but it has brought a whole new kind of energy that, in some sectors, has created fertile ground for new kinds of experimentation and innovation — and possibly new forms of art. But that art hasn’t arrived yet. In the age of the 3-D printer, are we entering a period where conceptual art — in the form of printer instructions — overtakes object art? This question, which has been posed for decades in the art world, just hurts my heart, perhaps because I am so attached to practice, tactility and craft. I understand the years of work that go in to becoming good at something. Is object making integral to what it means to be human? Or was it during the part of our evolution that is now passing?

I keep hearing a small voice inside telling me that something important is being lost, but I can’t put my finger on what it is. I know that the closure of so many galleries and art spaces means a shrinking art scene with fewer opportunities for artists to exhibit, sell work and build support for their practice. Most importantly, the middle ground of the mid-career professional — the space inhabited by working artists (in other words the middle class) — is crumbling. How will today’s emerging artists survive, much less thrive? As an artist, this information translates into a statement that should be unthinkable: “San Francisco is over.”

Cliff Hengst, from Gotta get a message to you, 2014; courtesy of the artist and Right Window
Cliff Hengst, from Gotta get a message to you, 2014; courtesy of the artist and Right Window

Life Is Hard and Then You Die

Perhaps these issues are so difficult because of art’s dual nature. On the one hand, artists create ephemeral gestures that capture and inflect what it is like to BE HERE NOW. When people say that impacted artists and arts organizations should just move to another part of the Bay, they ignore two important points. First, being priced out is not limited to the city alone — and displacements domino. Secondly, how does one reflect what it means to be HERE from someplace else? Artists soak in our environments using daily experience as raw material. In a sense, all art is site specific.

The other part of the art equation is the eternal. We make new art alongside and in dialogue with the towering masters who have withstood the test of time. When we think of art, we often conjure images that seemingly stand outside of history. Perhaps this idea of timelessness is factored in to the emotion around losing an art space as opposed to some other enterprise. Art’s juxtaposition of the ephemeral and the permanent is what makes it so vital.

This duality is also there when we think of home. Though it is disconcerting to contemplate, the city we call home is not permanent — we only need another big quake to demonstrate that fact — and we are even more temporary residents. For a brief moment, we take ownership and shape the space to suit our needs.

Problem is, eviction from one’s home or community cannot help but feel personal. One can only imagine how the older gay men who survived hatred, discrimination and the AIDS crisis only to be swept out of The Castro by babies in strollers must feel. Perhaps the same way the Irish working class families felt when they were displaced by queers. This must be what it’s like to get old: You spend your whole life nurturing something that disregards your contribution, devalues and ultimately discards you. Such is the cycle of life.

Belonging, Diversity, Social Justice: There’s an App for That

Someone recently posted on one of KQED Arts’ message boards about being a misfit and looking to San Francisco as a place where misfits somehow belong — another of the city’s myths. This made me sad and I felt compelled to respond because the very definition of a misfit is someone who doesn’t fit, and it seemed that the writer was confused about a basic tenet of his or her own assumed identity. As humans we are compelled to search out others of like mind and create community, yet there are also those of us who identify strongly as outsiders. An outsider will always be looking in with melancholy, it is part of who we are, and in the age of the global popularity contest called Facebook, being “liked” has puzzlingly become part of our job description. What does that mean for the “other”? How can the city have gone from a Mecca for misfits to the leading exporter of a culture of “like”?

So, what are the myths we tell ourselves about the meaning of San Francisco? And is it possible to separate what we see (and what we want to see) from what’s really there? Resisting cultural change is a fool’s errand, though not fighting for what you believe in is equally abhorrent. But are we fighting to save something that has already vanished? Or, worse yet, may never have been there in the first place? What San Francisco are you trying to hold onto? What role did you play in creating the San Francisco that now exists, and is forcing you out? Can you let your beloved move on to grow, change and become something you no longer recognize — someone you would never fall for and someone who wouldn’t give you the time of day?

When I look back on my three decades in the city, I know that it was the cheap rent, from the walk-in closet I occupied for $90/month to the $300/month room I rented in Dogpatch, that made it possible for me to do things like attend school and dedicate myself to an art practice. But how do college students do it now? I pride myself for having lived in every bad neighborhood in San Francisco, but they are all upscale now. How is it possible for a barista to afford a walk-in closet even in the Tenderloin? And how does a city continue to function if the workers — bus drivers, teachers, waiters, and yes, artists — who are responsible for its services can no longer afford to live here?

cliff hengst my city was gone from gotta get a message to you 2014
Cliff Hengst, from Gotta get a message to you, 2014; courtesy of the artist and Right Window

I was shocked a couple of months back — or was it longer? (the pace of change creates its own alternate universe of time) — to discover that the Hayes Street drag bar Marlena’s had been replaced by a new swanky, upscale — and packed — bar with a front window that opened out onto the street. As I walked past, two young dudes stood out front smoking what looked like oversized cartoon cigars. I remembered this incident recently after hearing the Mission drag bar Esta Noche was being replaced by something similar. It was an interesting feeling.

I hadn’t been to Marlena’s in over a decade and it had never been a favorite hangout, but I found solace in the fact of its existence. When it disappeared I was shocked, which was a feeling made more absurd by the fact of Hayes Valley itself. Back in the late 1980s, when I lived on Hayes and Fillmore, that place was underneath a freeway and the idea of it populated with upscale boutiques and eateries would have been laughable. But Marlena’s was there, along with the nightly street theater provided by its colorful patrons. Where do they perform now? And who gets to find amusement in their alternate universe of drama and comedy? Who will love the misfits while they survive? And when they are gone, how will we know what we have lost?

All artwork by Cliff Hengst from Gotta get a message to you, a month-long residency at Right Window. A new message appears every day through March, 2014. Closing party Sunday, March 30, 5-7pm.

Priced Out: Saying Good-bye to the Myth of San Francisco 21 April,2014Mark Taylor

  • Heather McKay Green

    Thank you for sharing your thoughtful, open-minded and heartfelt perspective. I am a native San Franciscan (5th generation) and just about every single member of my family has been priced out of not just the City, but the whole Bay Area. And I am also married to a Googler. Most articles on this subject infuriate me with their feelings of entitlement toward “my City”, their generalizations of people in the tech industry and their lack of historical perspective, but what you have written here is just beautiful. Thanks again!

  • T.J. Diggs

    “And how does a city continue to function if the workers — bus drivers, teachers, waiters, and yes, artists — who are responsible for its services can no longer afford to live here?”

    I moved to SF in the mid 90s. I pretty much thought I’d live there until I died. But this latest wave of affluence has priced me out of the city for good. I got so sick of it, I actually moved back to small mid-western town.

    So back here in the rust belt, I can afford to live relatively stress free. I can buy a house for the price of a used car. The web lets me keep in touch with artist friends. Hell, some of my old college buddies have actually moved back as well.

    Many of us are moving on to second careers or setting up art practice. It’s hard to turn away owning your home and studio space, with room for a garden.

    I’ll always love San Francisco. Always. But he/she is a harsh and unforgiving lover.

    • Jen

      Welcome to Oakland!!

      • nelson3300

        the same thing is going to happen here

        • kat karsecs

          It already has.

    • joizy

      I’m planning on moving back to my old hometown in New Jersey. Houses are dirt cheap. It’s safe. I can grow my own vegetables in very rich soil. I am hoping to do this when I retire in 10 years, but as a teacher, I never know when my school will be closed down and privatized. It is not just San Francisco that is being priced out of people’s reach, education has been going in that direction for years.

  • Deke

    Everyone loves San Francisco. But San Francisco doesn’t love
    you back. It doesn’t need to — there’s always someone new coming to town, eager to drink up the heady, intoxicating atmosphere that’s a mixture of wishes and perceived opportunity.

    People dream about coming to San Francisco. When I first arrived, I was overwhelmed by the natural beauty of the town, its colorful character and all the promise it seemed to offer. Before long, I discovered a dark sense of native pride which basically said “We were here before you came and we’ll be here after you leave.” These days, it’s a wonder anyone can stay and thrive, particularly families and those who are the backbone of the city who help make it so rich and compelling.

    The Bay Area will always entice the dreamers but sooner or later, you want to feel like you can be a part of something. It’s disappointing to feel that evaporating. All my grousing aside, I’ve never loved a city more and I always hope we’ll get back together some day. Just hope I win the lottery.

    • Deke: On the flip side is this great piece written by John Devore about New York that is the perfect antidote to the idea of a break up: http://johndevore.tumblr.com/post/79732261559/new-york-city-doesnt-love-you

      • Deke

        Thanks Mark. Lived there too and can relate. Don’s comment that “New York’s indifference to your plight makes you strong” is true.

        • Yes, I lived there too and had to flee because i was tired of living like
          a dog in a kennel. My favorite line from this essay: “I will always look
          back on getting my ass kicked fondly because that
          pain is proof that I had a relationship with New York’s steel-toed boot.” So true.

      • Dorkus Americanus

        “Complaining is the only right you have as a New Yorker. To complain is to tell the truth. People who refuse to complain, and insist on having a positive outlook, are monsters. Their optimism is a poison. If given the chance they will sell you out.” – So true. And now true about San Francisco too.

  • Elvis Johnson

    left the city in 1999 and it was a sad divorce, i felt I had lost a lover, but over time the city was still there, but the change has come again , and tears come back. lost are the historical buildings and strange clubs of my youth, but as an older person lamenting the old days you lose the power of now. back to the present. thanks for a great perspective on SF.

  • NunyaDangBisness

    When I 1st moved to the Bay Area almost 11 years ago, I heard a piece on NPR about how San Francisco wasn’t a city for families – that the price of housing was so high, that typically young people come here, rent, get careers – and when it’s time to settle down they move, because putting down roots in this town with it’s obscene housing costs is simply not attainable for the average person.

    You know what has changed in those ten years? Mostly nothing. There are still very few families here (unless you’re referring to either the rich soccer mom/dad types, or the poor folks out in places like Excelsior or Bayview). This city has been, and will continue to be a place that people come to for the “culture”, and leave because of the pricetag.

    It is what it is. I’m just glad the author recognizes that the “artists” very much created this atmosphere. That NPR piece that I refer to above actually talked about how artists would move into a neighborhood, then the neighborhood would get that “kitschy charm” thing going on, and the elite would decide they needed to be where things were “cool” and exciting. Well – that happened, and happens all of the time in SF. It’s the nature of things here.

  • native san franciscan

    did you ever give a thought to the san franciscans YOU were pricing out when you moved there? you should have, it would have given you some standing when it eventually happens to you.

    • herelongerthanyou

      Actually between the 1970s and 80s, and again in the mid 80s to early 90s, the population of San Francisco was dropping. So in all likelihood the author wasn’t pricing anyone out.

    • Vodeeodoe

      When I moved to SF in the early eighties, even making minumum wage, it was super easy to get a place with roommates. My immigrant familiy, who moved there in the 50s, along with myself, got priced out by the first dot com boom rent hike, because we were never able to afford to buy. I moved to a neighboring city, got lucky and got some money to afford to buy a house, and now I’m the gentrifier – I joke because I am soooo not, but no matter where you move, actual born there locals will always be pissed (as will the ones who pretend like they were born there). If I was a gentrifier, I would be planning to move and make money off of my house, but I’m a homey person. I’m staying and making this new city my home, unlike a lot of the techies staying in SF currently. When those giant paychecks go, so will they. You want people moving into your city who do so because they want to make it a home; not use it like a Kleenix. I miss my City, but such is life.

    • Dorkus Americanus

      Most cultural shifts in SF didn’t price others out, most freaked them out. The beats, the hippies, and the gays freaked so many people out that they fled to the suburbs in droves. The tech boom if the early 2000’s and then again now, is the first major wave since the gold rush that has really massively priced people out. And has changed the dynamic from weirdos coming in and freaking people out, to normals coming in and making it not worth the prices to stay here.

      • $311151

        Techies are not actually normals to people outside of this area!

  • Kim Anderson

    Wow, well written, thank you. I sometimes feel with the issues going on in our city now, that those of us who are artists, activists, wanderers, are made to feel bad because we don’t want to fight for “our city”. I feel like I’ve finally opened up to the notion that life happens elsewhere, culture exists in other cities, and great communities are waiting all over the U.S. and the world. I’ve prepared myself for the day that I lose my ridiculously cheap rent-controlled apartment at the busiest tech bus intersection in the most desirable, most ellis-acted neighborhood in our city. I’m glad I had the chance to chill here in SF and take the time to come to those realizations and I hope people like myself have the opportunity to do so in the future.

  • rebecca

    Fantastic article. Thank you.

  • Emvee

    Please folks, you need to understand that this isn’t a cultural change (Irish to African american to gay to hipster) this is an economic shift: the rich and hopeful-to-be-rich, and the youth of this New Economy want to live in The City (be it SF, NY LA, BLYN…) You cannot compare the changes of ’99, ’67, or 1849 to today. Today we have the near complete displacement of the working poor, working class and middle class not only in SF, but in a growing number cities. And as a native, it makes me sad.

    • Earl D.

      this is completely correct. Change *does* happen, in all cities — in all neighbourhoods eventually. Sometimes for the worse, often for the better, and there are always cranks and curmudgeons try to cast the paste in a rose coloured tint. What happened to San Francisco is totally different, and really unprecedented for an American city. Regional economic prosperity typically draws the artist, the working class, and cultural institutions into a city. In SF its driven them out. That’s a new, counterproductive dynamic.

    • $311151

      I disagree with that analysis. It depends upon failing to recognize a working class when the numbers to which you are accustomed are replaced by higher ones. A twenty-five-year-old contractor who commutes three hours, pays $3,000 per month rent and $500 health insurance, and self-employment tax on from a $100K salary, with no pension and no job security *IS*, in fact, no better off than a union factory worker of the past.

      People of one generation are being displaced, for sure. The people displacing them are not rich; they are what the working class now looks like.

  • Larry Finklestein

    I was a San Francisco native. I survived the dot com boom of the 90’s but could not survive this last wave. I miss San Francisco but life goes on.

  • LF

    San Francisco has always been too expensive for the middle class. In 1952 my parents moved out of “the city” because they couldn’t afford to buy a house or pay rent there. Fast forward to 1974 and I gratefully found my first job in San Francisco. But, I could not afford to pay rent in there and after looking for months I just commuted in on the train. Today, my friend’s children in San Francisco are trying to find places to rent and even though they have well paid jobs the task is still daunting. It is an unforgiving city but many love it.

  • snucky

    Also a (still resident) native here. A few days ago, I was watching a news story about how the city had approved making the crosswalks at Market and Castro rainbow-colored. They interviewed one older woman who grumbled; “oh who cares, there’s mainly only straight people here now, anyways!!”. I knew immediately that she was not from here, because I grew up in EV, on 18th and Eureka, and back in the day, that whole neighborhood was FOB Irish, save for Clay’s pet shop and Toad Hall. So thanks for giving a nod to the displaced Irish. So many folks have been forgotten over the decades as wave after wave of newcomer pushes the last one out. The article depresses me, I am trying to fight “gentrification” with all of my might, but it’s a losing battle. The best I can muster is yelling at random strangers when they try to run me over in their car or cold-shouldering a newbie hipster. Most people that come here make it what they want, not what it is. All we can hope for is a another burst bubble.

  • crosspatch

    It is extremely important that we keep San Francisco as poor as possible. Raising rents and bringing in people who are successful will create pressure for city government policies that foster success. We can’t have that. It is of vital importance that we keep as many unsuccessful people in the city as possible so that they may be subsidized in exchange for their votes. People who are successful tend not to need a lot in the way of handouts from government and tend to prosper most when government leaves more money in their pockets leaving less for these people in government to manage. In other words, if the culture of dependency is destroyed in San Francisco, the political infrastructure that feeds on that culture may go with it. We must by all means ensure that San Francisco is kept as poor and unsuccessful as possible if we are to maintain our current authoritarian government structure.

    Hey, I know, lets just ban rich people.

    • TracyLF

      Sadly, I got news… It ain’t the subsidized that are being screwed over. Its a lower middle class working person’s disaster. The places for the poor are are still there. Its the hard working grocery store clerk who bartends at night that is being evicted. This isn’t fitting into your libertarian dis playbook. .

      • crosspatch

        Correct. The middle class must be destroyed. They will be either forced out or they must submit and become dependent on the system. They will be amply rewarded in that endeavor by being given a much greater equivalent income in various benefits and tax breaks than they could ever hope to earn, so why try. Ban the middle class.

    • blue crane

      no city should ever be a place that only the wealthy can live in. That’s not right. And ultimately a city loses much of it’s charm and uniqueness when money is all that matters. Cities have always been the places people go to reinvent themselves, to escape from small town prejudices and to experience the richness of a diverse population. Everyone from Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns to Patti Smith to Laurie Anderson to Amiri Baraka to countless bands were able to prosper in the cities. That that is disappearing now is not good news for the creative zeitgeist that keeps the country humming.

      • Harry McNicholas

        Unfortunately it is happening to every city on the planet. The poor have to live on the street or on the fringes. Now you must include the Middle Class. No poor people live in West LA. Most Middle Class people have been forced out of West LA. Portland, Oregon is seeing its city divided. The Middle Class and poor living in the South East and the rest occupied by the wealthy. San Francisco is simply going through what the rest of the cities on the planet are going through.

    • T.J. Diggs

      Just to be clear here.. the subsidies are going to the new media companies and APP makers that are moving in on Market street. I know.. I worked in one. Even at my nice salary it was nearly impossible to find a place to rent that I could afford. Also the “poor” you so despise do all of the work that’s necessary to make a city run. Who exactly do you think it is that makes your coffee, drives your buses, waits on you stories and serves your restaurant meals? Oh right those people are invisible to you. The real issue will arise when San Francisco faces a “service crisis”. Because people who do those jobs can’t afford to live close enough to their jobs.

  • :Rhoade

    Crosspatch is definitely right. Keep the community as poor as possible. That way, he can evict people, then raze a building or two that just looks way out-of-date (since poor people usually vote pro-historic preservation), rebuild with something that’s smart-looking (but slipshod in safety terms, again because poor people aren’t around any more to vote for high building code standards), and then he can live in Los Angeles North. Or even Disney World North-West. Because at Disney’s “Town of Celebration”, there are no poor liberals to ruin it for the developers and sub-contractors. No homeless, either! Great!(Well, so what, there WAS that little matter of all those homes getting their sheetrock, studs, and insulation ripped out in Celebration because it wasn’t done right the first time when Disney was the principal contractor).

  • Adam Klein

    Thanks Mark for this thoughtful piece. I have been living mostly outside the city (outside the country, actually) for the past eleven years. But I lived in the Tenderloin for at least twelve years and had my roots in SF, amongst the artist community, go go dancing at the End Up and working (with you, at one point!) at movie theaters and bookstores. At the time, rent wasn’t cheap, but I lived with others, and apartments were easy to get. I participated in a sliver of the queer arts world and thought I was at the center of it, or that the queer arts world was the center of the city. Varying degrees of delusional thought. When I hear people talk of losing the “culture” of SF, I wonder how many actually contributed to it: I mean, regularly participated in its openings, readings, performances–or even shopped its bookstores, went to its small, less-conveniently located movie theaters. I believed I was at the center of a scene, but I wasn’t trying to keep it alive, felt no responsibility for it, really. I was young and having fun, and dealing with the terrible AIDS crisis, and mostly trying to look out for myself. And when the first dot com boom happened, all of these discussions of evictions, economic inequality, etc. were on everyone’s mind and discussed as though the idea that people were making money in San Francisco was an unimaginable encroachment. As a young writer, I navigated the changes by working for one of those shabby tech companies, writing website reviews. It was a source of income. Everyone listened to music, went to shows, and enjoyed a good meal now and then. We were happy to finally be exploited (as writers, we were of course, not making substantial money–but we weren’t grilling hotdogs at The Strand, either). I mention all this to say that yes, I am an artist who helped contribute to the freak factor of SF, and inadvertently sold myself cheaply at the first chance I had. I never thought much about SF as fostering great “culture,” but allowing for a certain amateurishness that could become interesting. I did what I wanted to do, not for the larger “culture” –which was one of intolerable grief, actually. Income inequality is corrosive, no doubt. But nostalgia is a bourgeois indulgence and lends itself to the self-aggrandizing ideas of a once great hive of “culture makers.” Most were not displaced because of tech. Most grew up and decided they wanted one-bedrooms, or even condos or homes. Or they wanted to see the rest of the world. To the hipster app maker, the spoils are yours. Those of us grieving the loss of “culture” may make you more inclined not to just have a great time, but to engage more consciously in the city’s civic life. I doubt you will. I didn’t, and I would be foolish to think that others would commit to some vague idea of what constitutes “culture” today, or what we mean by a greater good.

    • Dear Adam: I hope I am not misread as indulging in nostalgia for a lost era. I’ve always had the feeling that I was late to the party. Maybe, as usual, I just wasn’t invited! But I can say this: people like you made me wake up and question my complacency. You were a force that, even though you may not have realized it — and it sounds as though it wasn’t your intent — challenged my assumptions about the world and pulled me further out toward the edge than I would have gone had I not entered your orbit, or you entered mine.

      So, my dear, your presence indirectly shaped me, inspiring me to try harder and — possibly — to fail more often for the trying.

      If there was once some great hive of culture makers, then I belonged to the neighboring swarm under the hapless leadership of a clueless queen.


      • Adam Klein

        It’s always remarkable to find a constellation of people from whom we can draw so much. I was very lucky to find them, and frankly, you didn’t arrive too late. You were right there in the mix, bringing your own wise, wide-eyed energy to that crazy clan. So glad we had that crossover. And glad to read you writing so eloquently about those times. By the way, I don’t think your article is nostalgic in the least. I think it asks us to question just what we’re holding on to, and whether that thing truly existed as we imagine it did. That’s a great question to ask.

  • Jonathan Farrell

    I can relate to some of what is being said in this article. When I get sad and upset at how much the City has changed in such a short amount of time, I am reminded that it is not just San Francisco that has changed, but the entire world. Technology and all the various trends we see here are happening all over the globe. True some of it is unique to SF. But, over all the change is global.

  • Zachary DeVine

    So the people that move here, think the place belongs to them then gets mad when others come here too? Am I missing something?

  • Kim

    SF moved to Portland, Oregon!

  • Nick Meinzer

    I made is since 89…then moved to the east bay…after doing hair for 23 years and the shop I was working at in the Castro suddenly closing November…(meaning saying goodbye to people I worked with between 10 and 20 years)…destroyed my business…moved to the mission…four months later…that shop is closing. Now I say goodbye as I become entirely immersed in Oakland. SF is now just the city across the bay with some friends I can visit.

  • NorthangerAbbey

    hmmm. I suspect this is an age-related discussion. At some point we will all see a change in a place we live, we will grow up, take on new activities and then sneer at those doing the modern version of what we did 20yrs prior; no matter what city we live in. Cities change. I’ve seen it in my 12yrs here. The author laments the closing of a bar he never went to? He could be part of the problem by not going there. Says misfits don’t have a place in SF but then says ‘misfits’ in the last paragraph…. The issue is not who is moving IN, it is those who are here who do not want anything to change – Planning Dept included. We need more housing, end of story. Now, go have a lovely weekend in the city of change!

  • suziecups

    I moved out of SF last year. Couldn’t get over how much it had turned into a place that I had not moved to 16 years before. Sad, but I get that things change and evolve. Great metaphor “San Francisco really is like a boyfriend/girlfriend (possibly trans) who knows he/she is hotter than you and is constantly on the lookout for a more worthy mate.” SO TRUE. Awesome article.

  • Mr. Jonathan LaRoche, Ph.D

    things change. it’s ok.

  • Danny D

    First of all, let me say that this is a beautifully written article, regardless of how logical the content is.

    Second, I’ll confess that I know nothing about SF (I only visited there a couple of times, and I have some friends living there and around the area, but I cannot claim to know the city).

    What I don’t get is how can you hang the blame on a particular reason (“techies”) for something that’s happened throughout the world since, well, ever (limited land + growing population -> real estate prices go up. unless people get bankrupt in a large scale like what happened with the sub prime crisis, but that has nothing to do with tech).

    What I guess (and it’s all just guessing for you too, because there are no real numbers to be found about growth or decline of software engineers in SF compared to the total population over the years) about people in the industry of software around the bay area (and in general) is that:
    a. Most software engineers in the bay area actually do not live in SF since it’s too far away from work. They are more spread out in places like Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, etc. Especially the ones with families (they are very rare in SF). So they actually do not affect prices in SF with regards to real estate.
    b. Those who do live in SF are suffering from the high prices just like you do (I don’t know how much you think you earn as a software engineer, but it’s certainly not an amount that will let you live as a married couple with kids in a place with prices such as SF). Just had a coffee today in SF with a friend who left the bay area because she got fed up of spending all of her money on rent (she’s a software engineer at a large corporate).
    c. Except for a couple of software giants like Facebook and Google, most companies in the bay area that account for what people call “the tech boom”, are startup companies, which pay very little to their employees (most employees earn a very small wage and in turn get a very small amount of equity that is 90% likely to be worth nothing).

    • Dorkus Americanus

      I stopped reading at, ” I’ll confess that I know nothing about SF”.

    • $311151

      People are totally deluded as to what tech workers make. A friend of mine recently asked why I don’t go work for Google and “make X,” an astronomical amount that he assumes all Google workers make.

  • Dorkus Americanus

    Hello, “…are we entering a period where conceptual art… …overtakes object art? This question, which has been posed for decades in the art world, just hurts my heart, perhaps because I am so attached to practice, tactility and craft. I understand the years of work that go in to becoming good at something…”, and yet the art accompanying this article, Cliff Hengst, “Gotta get a message to you” is, ironically just that kind of conceptual art that lacks practice, tactility, and craft. Just sayin’.

  • What a beautifully written and thoughtful article. I only lived in SF for a few years but really “studied” it to try to get to know it. I understood everything you said, at least in theory, and it rang true. I left because I started my own internet marketing business (ironic, huh?) and could no longer afford $2k/month in rent. Now I’m in Paris and, though it’s also expensive, I don’t miss SF as much. 🙂

  • Bob

    #gentrification #happens. Come to Condesa/Roma in Mexico City.

  • hoapres

    I am going to take some flack.




    That’s the problem


    The tech companies can’t find Americans to relocate to SF Bay Area as you really do need to make $250K MINIMUM to have a middle class standard of living in SF.


    The tech companies lobby congress claiming non-existent tech labor shortages to get CHEAP labor.

    If that sounds simplistic then well it is because it is THAT simple.

  • Dose of Reason

    Guess what? Your artistic nirvana is someone else’s bedroom community. Your idealized vision of SF is not for everyone. A lot of people don’t think of the arts scene in SF, as much as they think of the mix of people.

    Besides that, cities evolve, and there are still parts of SF where artists can rent or buy, you just have to open your mind a bit to the possibilities, or would the conflict of gentrifying an oppressed neighborhood damage your artistic integrity?

  • mtaysic

    Maybe one day.. we will all be wealthy. Whoa. Will the ban still be on then?

  • mtaysic

    In this article I sensed an underlying tension toward the “techies” as you call them. As if the tech industry alone is making America capitalistic and greedy… well no it’s actually been that way well before the tech industry. For a while, companies like Google were so popular because they seemed to contradict capitalism. Of course we’ve seen a different face now.

    I also disagree with your idea of the creative industry… the tech industry is highly creative and littered with successful design artists who are just as hipster as the next hipster. Except they are making money now.

    I have friends who are painters and musicians and they wonder why they are being pushed out… well what did you think? It’s a tough path to go down, and why do you expect in that path you’d be able to live in one of the cities with the highest demand in the country?

    It’s true to some extent that artists have attracted others to the city. But the tech industry could flourish in other areas but are limited by the location of their funders, venture capitalists. That’s why startups thrive here.

    I completely understand the situation sucks for many. However the way in which many believe their particular perspective of SF is its golden age.. and bemoans how much will be lost when it passes… well its kinda silly right? New dreams are being built here, why not give them a chance?

  • K8

    thank you for a great article- so many wonderful points, your article is so heartfelt and true. ACK!!!!
    I’ve lived in SF as a child, and now as an adult since 1982….. I too thought I would be here “forever”… not so sure these days. These are interesting times-

  • Gabriella West Edits

    Hi Adam, nice to see you participating in this discussion! Did you actually end up in Afghanistan, or was that just a dream? I’m glad we had our few little moments of crossover, too, back in the 90s.


Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor founded KQED Arts in 2005 and served as Senior Interactive Producer for Arts and Culture through 2014. Taylor was the online arts editor of KQED’s daily arts blog for nine years and created the station’s first web-original podcasts, Gallery Crawl and The Writers’ Block.

Taylor is an experimental filmmaker and visual artist whose work has been collected by the Library of Congress, Stanford University and the New York Museum of Modern Art, among many others. He teaches Media Studies at the University of San Francisco and is exploring the connection between film and food.  Visit Mark Taylor’s website at emptypictures.net.